Fr Michael Gollop runs the blog Let Nothing You Dismay. This poignant title is quoted from the popular Christmas carol God rest ye merry gentlemen. He heads the blog with this message:
This, then is our desert: to live facing despair, but not to consent. To trample it down under hope in the Cross. To wage war against despair unceasingly. That war is our wilderness. If we wage it courageously, we will find Christ at our side. If we cannot face it, we will never find him.
I ask your prayers as I go through inner conflicts and difficulties. It isn’t a question of having fun in a boat and then going back to the humdrum of work and “normal” life! It often happens to me at this time of year – probably a dose of acedia, like a boat on a mirror-like sea and no wind.
The message makes so much sense. Life is so empty when it is a matter of material concerns and the cynicism of our contemporaries. Indeed, we have to combat our discouragement and face the constant conflicts. I have feelings of forebodings about so many things going on in the world, or not going on… I just don’t see things as I saw them thirty years ago.
Enough of self-pity! I only write this reflection for the benefit of anyone else going through the “doldrums” when the sails just flap helplessly from their yards and the ship goes nowhere. We just seem to have to hang on and wait for better days.
Two Jehovah’s Witness women came to the door this morning. Our little increasingly senile dog Seraphine ventured out of the gate to sniff at their feet. I picked her up and directed her back towards the house. They began the show me their publications and came out with the standard line about the Bible. The penny dropped, and I asked them the direct question – Are you Jehovah’s Witnesses? “Yes”, they answered. I simply said “Thank you” and closed my gate. I wasn’t in the mood for arguing with them. They were such pleasant ladies, and I felt shocked about expressing such a rude rejection, but the deed was done. Discussing things with those programmed people is like dealing with some people you come across in the forums and blog comment boxes. You are swimming against the current against ideologies and things people have just learned to repeat without understanding them. If I resist being “converted” by them, what should I “convert” them to? I have become so accustomed to the priestly life in the desert in a world that wants to know nothing of Christianity for its own sake.
The two ladies went their way, apparently used to repeated rejections or worse. Cold calling has become ever more frequent, most for commercial purposes, and it makes us hard of heart. The JWs have been doing it for a long time, like the men who used to peddle clockwork toys or vacuum cleaners. They were probably nice and decent people, but recruited in the cause of such a strange and screwed-up revelation and creed.
Modern life makes us hard-hearted and sceptical, isolated and cynical, as materialistic as our contemporaries. I would never dream of “evangelising” by cold calling. It cheapens what we believe in and invades privacy like the company that wants to do a thermal analysis on our home or sell us insurance. Again, this is one of my recurring subjects!
I am going thru my own period of doldrums with a career that, while remunerative thank God, is only that. And I watch as the secular tide just rises and rises and the Sacred retreats with us to our little redoubts.
I can relate to your experience with the JW’s. We age, and the time remaining to us becomes more precious. Debating doctrine with apostates is not a high-value activity. Stay your course, Father. You seem to be doing fine.
Many thanks for the kind words. Indeed, time becomes precious, too precious for being frittered away by the Consumer Society or crap religion. The Sacred still persists, but away from mass concentrations of human beings – the sea, the forests and the mountains. I find the word “apostate” to be very strong. The Muslims use it as a motive for putting someone to death (as Christians did 500 years ago or more recently)! I see the JW’s as misguided folk who were desperately alienated from the RC Church and could not live with the emptiness of consumerist secularism. I’m not sure that shutting the gate in their face was the right form of Christian witness, but I felt too weak and alienated for anything else. It depends on how indoctrinated they are – that presumption can only be made of those who are sent to do the door-to-door stuff. It seemed to be the only thing I could do.
I don’t think you ought to feel so bad about your cold dismissal, father. My mother was wont (until my father put a stop to it) to invite Jehovah’s Witnesses in for tea and feign interest in their religion and then, after about an hour, say “sorry, I’m really not interested.” Yours is comparatively much less cruel. And, as you say, they’re probably used to it anyway. If they want to go about propagating lies and being intrusive then what else can they expect but indifference or abuse?
My approach for years has been, as soon as the JWs suggest that there are problems in this world, looks like we’re in the last times, etc., to agree that things are pretty bad and to invite them to come into the house where we can have some peace and pray about the situation. Without fail, they are gone within milliseconds and don’t return for several years–despite the fact that we see them on the street from time to time.
If you did try evangelizing by knocking on doors you might well annoy a lot of people. However, you might also find some lonely and anxious souls who would be delighted at being visited by a clergyman. Perhaps the salvation of those lost sheep might make it worth it?
Dear Fr. I recognise myself in much of what you have written – so you do not suffer alone. I barely recognise the Church I grew up in, and the world is so aggressively secular. I too am retired, but help out on a Sunday, my mid-week is spent saying the old Anglican Breviary and saying a daily Mass from the English Missal. As Our Lady says: we must pray and do penance. God bless you for the small light from your blog, shining out on a darkening world.
When encountering folks at the door (or sometimes, in the street) whom I know to be Jehovah’s Witnesses and who are prosyletizing, I ask, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is GOD THE SON?” They cannot answer honestly in the affirmative, but also, usually do not wish to answer directly in the negative, so they hem and haw and say things like, “He is the Son of God.”
Finally, I say, “Unless you believe that Jesus Christ is God the Son, the Eternal Word of God, the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity” then you and I have nothing to talk about when it comes religion. Have a nice day.”
Fr. Anthony, I pray that you experience consolation and that soon.
I have heard about the tricks – saying the Our Father in front of a crucifix. They hate that. All of a sudden, we are using prayers and religious symbols as weapons. We are negotiating theology on two incompatible levels. Those people do not understand analogy and metaphor, any more than many orthodox Christians. Words just don’t mean the same thing to them and us, so dialogue is made impossible. There is the stress of hacking things out with people who are going to return to the starting point as if they had never heard anything. The JWs need to experience for themselves the absurdity of their ideology – and then they will seek something more substantial in their spiritual lives.
I shut my gate on them, but perhaps I would be more welcoming to those two women if I met them as normal human beings and not representatives of what they wanted to sell me. I just acted intuitively.
Father, this incident appears at least at one level to be troubling you. I don’t judge you. I both understand the impatience one can feel – for all sorts of reasons – when one gets called on (think cold calls from market sellers on the telephone!), and the trouble that a slammed door-in-the-face or cold rebuff signifies to a Christian who is enjoined by Christ to “love the enemy”.
In many ways you are feeling the centuries-old tension between one’s humanity, personality and this apparently impossible set of Gospel commands. We all find ourselves in a similar situation, facing the same tension.
All I would say to you is, remember how you, in your priesthood, would wish to bring peace to a troubled penitent. “Peace be with you; my peace I give you: look not upon the sins of thy Church thy servant but graciously deign to bring me and all who are dear to the Father into thy blessed kingdom.” Etc.
Father, the JWs are loved children of God too. And you will remember, I’m sure, that He knows your frailty as He knows mine and theirs, and loves us yet. That we do not always love Him or each other is indeed a problem, but His love conquers all, or He is not God.
I wish you Peace and ask you humbly that you wish it for me and all. We are in this together. Don’t lose heart, and let us all love better tomorrow.
It is indeed strange, I also had two lovely ladies from the JW come to my house recently (I also work with several members of that denomination); perhaps it is just me; but I actually have an enormous amount of respect for these two rather elderly women who go from house-to-house knocking on doors with what they feel is the Good Word. So I am never rude to them, but also quite honestly let them know that I am an old-fashioned Catholic and have no interest in changing. We then had a pleasant conversation about the coming heat, and they left.
They do something I simply would never be able to do; to go out in the bye-ways, accepting rudeness from many because they do believe that the faith that they have can actually change lives. And although I do believe their religion is not the true faith, they are certainly doing work that, quite honestly, I could never do.
I also tend to be polite to Mormon missionaries as well, but I do let them know that since they will be baptising me after I die anyway, why should I join now and have to pay ten percent for the privileged?